Better notes

I don’t like rules. When someone tells me that I should have x-number of slides in my presentation, or suggests that I use department so-and-so’s template, my brow furrows. I also don’t believe in following traditional, formal (outdated) guidelines about how I should present.

For example, I don’t believe it’s necessary to spend countless hours rehearsing a presentation just so you can memorize every word of your talk. In my opinion, printed presenter notes are just fine to have in your hand while presenting. In fact, they’re more than just fine, they’re recommended. In this post, I’m going to tell you why I recommend having printed notes, and I’m also going to give you some tips on a smarter way to print those notes from PowerPoint!

Why you should print your notes:

  1. If you are giving a new presentation, even if you have rehearsed, you’re going to encounter some unexpected moments of – how shall we say – momentary forgetfulness? I would rather pause to glance quickly at my notes, than leave something important out of my presentation. Pauses are a good thing, anyway, because it gives the audience a chance to relax and absorb new ideas.
  2. Technical difficulties happen when you least expect it, and having a printed version of your notes can bail you out of a number of sticky situations. Laptops go on the fritz, projector bulbs burn out, and files get corrupted. When these things happen, you need to think on your feet, and notes will help to guide you.
  3. Notes in your hand free you from the shackles of a podium. Stationary presenters are less active, and less interesting. With notes on-hand (and a presenter remote), you’re free to move about the room and engage the audience.
  4. The simple act of writing notes helps you remember the key points that you will be verbalizing. You may not need them during the presentation, but having them will provide peace of mind.
  5. TIP: Include a few extra ideas and activities in your notes that aren’t in your slideshow. When you have a sharp audience that needs a challenge, or you simply need to take the presentation in a slightly different direction, you’re covered.

Adding notes in PowerPoint:

  1. The notes pane should be visible below each slide. If you don’t see it, click on the View ribbon and make sure “Normal” is selected as your Presentation View. You can adjust the size of the notes pane by clicking and dragging on the horizontal border line.
  2. Type your notes in the notes pane. You can use some of the formatting options from the Home ribbon, such as bold, underline, and more. Repeat this for each slide as necessary.

Printing notes in PowerPoint (the yucky way):

  1. Click on the File ribbon, then Print.
  2. Choose “Notes Pages” from the second drop-down menu in the Settings group.
  3. Click the Print button. You’ll get one slide per page, with the notes below (and probably waste a lot of paper).

Printing notes in PowerPoint (the better way):

  1. Click on the File ribbon, then Save and Send.
  2. Choose Create Handouts from the list, and then click the Create Handouts button. A Send to Microsoft Word dialog box will appear.
  3. Choose Notes Next to Slides, and click OK. PowerPoint will then build a Word document for you, and this could take a few minutes so be patient. You can further edit the layout in Word, but keep in mind that you’ll have to repeat this process each time you edit your Presentation (the Word doc and PPT presentation are not dynamically linked).

If you have Adobe Acrobat installed on your workstation, you may have a third option. From the Print window, change your printer to the PDF writer. You may then be able to access advanced options for that printer, and adjust how many notes pages print on a single printed page… producing a similar result to the Microsoft Word option listed above. This process varies depending on the version of Acrobat you have installed, as well as the version of PowerPoint, and your operating system, so attempt at your own risk!

A few closing thoughts… when you are using a laptop and have connected to a projector or external monitor, the dual-monitor “presenter view” will be available. This allows you to see your notes, a timer, and the next slide on your laptop screen, while the audience only sees the current slide on the projector screen (click on Set Up Show from the Slide Show ribbon to adjust these settings). I rarely use this feature, because the dual-monitor setup can be finicky depending on your laptop, your operating system, and your ability to navigate your computer’s display settings dialog box. Also, it requires that I position my laptop between myself and the audience at all times. I would rather be free to walk around the room.

And finally, keep in mind that you don’t HAVE to use PowerPoint’s notes feature to manage your presentation notes. Typed or hand-written notes can serve the same purpose, and may even be more practical!

Do you use presenter notes? How detailed are you notes? Do you have a different strategy? Please share your thoughts below in the comments section!

2 thoughts on “Better notes

  1. I much prefer to have notes on index cards. Any computer problems or if my memory fails me and I’ve got those notes I can sneak a peak at. Also I don’t have to look at any screen while doing my talk. For instance I might have a point that says….Sell in Sunshine. Which is a trigger to me to discuss creating a warm rapport before trying to sell anything. It keeps me on track and free to roam while giving a talk.

    • That is an interesting idea. I will often print my slides 6-to-a-page, then hand write in some notes, or choose “handouts” as my print layout and then “send to” Word for more control over the page’s layout. Your idea breaks the link between an note and a particular slide… which could be a good thing. Index cards are also a little more elegant to hold in your hand while presenting. Thanks for the feedback!

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